Baan Bat – Bangkok’s Monk Bowl Village
Baan Bat (‘Home of the Bat’) is a temple supply neighbourhood loacted near Wat Saket on Soi Baan Bat alley in Bangkok. In this community, craftsmen have created alms bowls for monks, which are called ‘bat’ (บาตร) in Thai, since the 1700s. Baan Bat is probably the last village established in the 18th century by King Rama I to create these kinds of bowls. It is said that the community originally fled from war in Ayutthaya to find harbour in Bangkok.
In a daily rituals, Buddhist monks walk along the Sois to collect donations of food (alms). Hence, they carry large bowls, the ‘bat’, with them so that the faithful can give them food and other items sustaining their life in the monasteries. The monk’s bowl village is considered to be the last community of this kind in Thailand. Today, the bowls are almost solely produced in factories. Hence, the majority of communities producing these alms bowls are already extinct.
The handcrafted bowls are amazing and it takes fine skills and craftsmanship to produce them. Hence, using traditional methods, it takes approximately two days to create a bat. Each bowl is assembled from eight strips of metal which are supposed to represent Buddha’s Eightfold Path which should lead to cessation of suffering and eventually to self-awakening.
In a first step to produce a bowl, the eight metal strips are fired for six hours and then hammered into a curve. They are then overlaid like spokes and soldered together.
In the final step, the surface of the bowl is polished and lacquered until it shines. Each step takes place at a different house along the small alleyway where the few remaining families live. Making an alms bowl requires muscular strength and it is a hard job. A new bowl may weight up to two kilos.
The Baan Bat community creates around 50 bowls per month and they also produce small souvenir bowls for tourists. Hence, their offer ranges from three-inch souvenir sizes to nine-inch stainless steel bowls. There are three common shapes which are called ‘look jaan’ (a Thai fruit), manao (lime), and hua sara (Tiger’s Head).
It seems that the Tiger’s Head bowl is the most popular style and the most expensive. Hence, a stainless steel one sells for about 3,000 Baht. This kind of bowl is also the most robust since its inside is protected with clear gloss varnish. In comparison, the ‘look jaan’ bowl is made of a thinner white metal. Hence, it is more lightweight and the form seems to be more squat than tall. What is more, it does not have the thick protective top rim. For this reason, a bowl of this style is cheaper than the Tiger’s Head. The price for a ‘look jaan’ is about 1,400 Baht.
The standard monk’s bowl is eight-and-a-half inches across the top. It is made of white metal and the seams are joined with copper. The bowl may be blackened to protect it from rusting. Hence, the bowl can be put in fire for several hours. Usually, the monks take an unfinished bowl and blacken it in the temple’s fire.
The place is open from Monday to Friday (10.00-20.00) daily and the admission is free. For all those interested in the production process and for more detailed information, it is possible to arrange a viewing in advance.
Summing up, we may claim that Baan Bat offers an important insight into Thailand’s history and cultural tradition. Nonethelss, the village is probably the last of its kind in Thailand. However, the bowls they produce there are very durable and supply all Thai monks. Hence, for all those interested in traditional Thai craftsmanship, this is the place for you 🙂
*photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66